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Nordic jumping soars to new heights

Tim Mutrie

After launching a nordic ski jumping program last winter with a small, 15-meter jump, the Aspen Valley Ski and Snowboard Club (AVSC) plans to add a second, larger jump at Buttermilk this season.A new 30-meter jump will be built out of manmade snow on the skier’s left of Eagle Hill, near the Tiehack base of the Milk. It should be ready for jumping around New Year’s, according to John Callahan, the AVSC nordic program director.Only steps from the AVSC Clubhouse, the 15-meter jump was constructed out of dirt last fall. Last winter, about 10 young ski jumpers participated in the new program.This season, in order to progress the program, a bigger launch pad is required, Callahan said. Theoretically, jumpers can catch about as much air as the jumps are big – 15 and 30 meters, respectively.”We do want to expand the program and the 15- and 30-meter sizes are still really entry-level jumps,” Callahan said. “So at some point in the next few years, we’ll be looking for some place to build bigger jumps. And building the 30-meter jump out of snow, obviously, is a temporary solution before we can find a permanent one.”Callahan, who took over as nordic director from 10-year AVSC fixture Toby Morse in August, is working on the project with Buttermilk mountain manager Hans Hohl and Craig Ward, AVSC’s nordic jumping coach, who spearheaded construction of the first jump last season.”We’re also trying to gauge interest in it,” Callahan said. “We don’t want to spend a lot of time and effort building permanent jumps if it turns out there isn’t any interest.”As nordic ski jumping equipment can’t be found at most ski shops, AVSC has stocked up on all the gear necessary, including fat 180-cm skis, tele-style bindings and ankle-high boots.The new jump has also enabled AVSC to offer a nordic combined program this season. Callahan hopes to draw about 15 jumpers and combined athletes this season.”When I was growing up the Willoughby Jumps were in place, but they weren’t actively used; every now and then, we’d go hit one on our alpine gear. But I don’t know if there’s ever been a nordic combined program here before,” said Callahan, a 1981 Aspen High graduate and 1992 Olympian with the U.S. nordic team.The history of nordic ski jumping in Aspen dates to 1937, when Works Progress Administration (WPA) funds afforded construction of two jumps at the top of Mill Street, a 30- and 60-meter called the Willoughby Jumps after then-Aspen Ski Club President Frank Willoughby.In the 1960s, however, jumping ceased due to lack of interest. But the sport was revived for a brief period in the 1970s at the urging of former ski club coach Gale Spence. It was during that revival period that the late Raoul Wille launched his now infamous geländesprung – that is hucking off a nordic jump with regular alpine gear.Callahan, for one, remembers. “Ah, yes, the story of Raoul Wille jumping clear to the bottom of the runout; he soared past the K-point, broke both his ankles.”I think that’s one of those stories where if you polled everyone in town, ‘Hey, were you there that day?’ You’d come up with more people than even lived in town then. It’s one of those stories with legs.”But,” Callahan added, “regarding jumping on a safety level, it’s a very safe sport in a controlled environment.”AVSC’s nordic jumping program is scheduled to get under way for the season on Tuesday, Dec. 14. Call Callahan at AVSC at 925-2720, extension 110, for more information.Tim Mutrie’s e-mail address is mutrie@aspentimes.com